San Diego was first inhabited by descendants of Asians who had crossed the Bering Strait Land Bridge. The San Dieguito settled in the beautiful place we know as San Diego around 9000 BC. The area was later ‘discovered’ a couple of times and saw a few name changes until 1867 when real estate speculator Alonzo Horton stepped ashore, heard a Who, and built a town. A couple of world wars saw San Diego grow a huge naval presence. The founding of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla in 1903
and the creation of Balboa Park 1903-1915 helped establish San Diego as a happening community. Tourism became a huge part of the San Diego economy and the proximity of Tijuana with its legal gambling houses added a spark to San Diego’s growth.
The decade of the 60’s was hard on the economy of San Diego, but the municipality survived and was coming back in the 70’s.
In 1970 I survived BEEP school graduating near or at the bottom of the class and was assigned to Anti-Submarine Warfare School (ASW) located next door to NTC. (Barracks 58 at ASW School) This was a longer school (maybe 6 months) and attempted to teach us more theory and practical information about sonar equipment. Every member of the class was promoted to Sonar Technician 3rd Class. So, now I was a Petty Officer in the United States Navy. This was cool because I could go to the Petty Officer’s Club which was a little classier than the Enlisted Club. At ASW, however, we only had one bar, The Bent Snorkel. Being serious students, we sometimes continued our studies after class at The Bent Snorkel. I remember one night we were drinking Hamms beer (90 cents for a six-pack) when someone wondered out loud if the cardboard coasters might taste better than the beer. Naturally, we began an experiment that went like this; take a sip of beer, swallow, bite the coaster, chew, compare, repeat. I do not remember how long this brilliant exercise continued.
We were in softball season and our class of twenty students was extremely athletic drubbing every other class we faced. Two of us played on the TraPac (Training Pacific) team which competed in the 11th Naval District fast pitch league. We won the championship with me leading off and playing left field. I wasn’t a great hitter, but I had speed and could bunt. The strategy for victory was for me to get on and be advanced by ‘Buck’ the number two hitter and scratch out a run with some other hitting and stolen bases. We won because our pitcher, Rick Decker, could throw the ball as hard as anyone I ever faced. He didn’t allow many hits, so we won all our games against Navy opposition. One team we couldn’t beat was an Air Force team from Mount Laguna Air Force Station. This team had a shortstop whose teammates called “Fish”. His name was probably Fisher. Honestly, I think the team could have played without a third baseman and a second baseman. “Fish” had amazing range and a cannon for an arm. We played those guys twice and he threw me out on sure hits at least once each game.
On another day I was rounding third toward home on someone’s hit to right center field. Somehow, I tripped halfway home and went head first into the base path. I managed to get back on my feet and score, but I was now legend. At least I was a legend for our two fans. Two Hawaiian 1st Class Petty Officers were our groupies, never missing a game. From that day to the end of the season the two found a reason at each game to yell “Slide Heckman slide.”
Meanwhile, back at school, the other classes were getting tired of being demolished by our class in softball. One of the classes challenged us to a touch football game to which we, of course, accepted. The day before the appointed game it dawned on us that we should have some idea what we were doing so we had a practice to decide who would play where. We felt sufficiently ready for the challenge.
We received the first kick-off and ran it back for a touchdown. We continued to score against the opposition and to stop them from scoring for a lopsided victory. Our class was extremely athletic. We even tested our skills several times sailing around San Diego Bay in twelve foot sailboats.
We were expanding our search for activities around San Diego as well. The focus of our attention had moved from downtown to the area around the sports arena. The arena provided much entertainment from concerts to basketball games with the NBA Rockets (Today the Houston Rockets) and Roller Derby. (Never actually saw Raquel at Roller Derby.) We were not serious fans of Roller Derby. We called it ‘Rolly Derber’ and always cheered for the Detroit Devils who always lost to the LA Thunderbirds. One night I took my cassette player and posing as a radio announcer interviewed folks for the radio station. I even scored an interview with ‘Big John’ from the Thunderbirds.
After most events at the arena we stopped at “That Place Across From the Sports Arena” for beer and peanuts. A fake elephant head was attached to the wall and when you lifted the trunk a basket full of peanuts would fall out. The floor was covered with peanut shells.
Along the way we discovered Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo. One Saturday afternoon at Balboa Park, we decided to play tackle football. Yes, alcohol was involved. On the first play of the game I was about to arm tackle my best friend when he lowered his head and hit me square in the chest. Well, it was clear that this was not going to be an afternoon for squeamish people. (The game only felt like this picture.) I couldn’t get out of bed the next morning. Every muscle screamed with pain as I tried to sit up. That was a very long day. On the following Monday we all shuffled painfully into class. One guy even had a cast on a broken arm. And the Navy thought we were smart enough to be in the electronics field.
We kept surviving.
See you next time.